Olive asks her brother the question she recycles, changing the words or the tone, but repeating the essence, hoping that perhaps this time she will receive an answer she can swallow: "Elias, why don't you play with me?"
He stares at the table.
She doesn't relent: "Elias other brothers and sisters play together. Why don't you like to play with me?"
Just a boy rubbing his eyes and a younger sister determined to try. To reach him. To draw him out of his his box with buttons for up and down but no diagonal, no twirls, no cartwheels in the living room.
He can put on headphones and watch YouTube videos about elevators for hours, if we let him, laughing at the narrator's quirky comments, repeating phrases, pulling them out in public as his own, but play a game with his sister, not without adult involvement, adult negotiating, adult cajoling, not without us making it a big family affair.
And even then chaos can ensue.
Last night we planned a family art night, and when Elias put his headphones back on after dinner, his Ipad aglow, I stormed over from the sink and grabbed it-- I poked the beast-- frustrated by his desire to retreat, tired from a day of trying, not nearly as patient as my husband who had a plan to draw him out, I just yanked out the plug.
A dirty rice pot in one hand, his iPad in the other, I turned away from my son, who rose, enraged, the monster already engaged.
The beast swung his open hand at me and connected with my chin and shoulder and I thought, bring it on, like a boxer in the ring, I wanted to raise my fists and duke it our with my preteen son-- the adrenaline almost felt good, the anger almost pleasure, oh to just release it all, to roar like Elias.
Thank god for restraint.
Elias redirected his fire towards Olive, prompting Nick to stand between his children as a shield, this is all too familiar place we find ourselves in just when we feel thankful for days of calm.
Elias turned to the table and attempted to upend Olive's new wooden box of art supplies, which made her scream even louder than when he stepped towards her-- and it could have gone on like this, the four of us trapped in this hurricane, if I hadn't spilled rice all over the counter before it began, when I attempted to pour from a wider hole to a more narrow one.
"Look at this rice explosion!" I said, and Elias turned and looked at my mess, laughter replacing rage.
And I unclenched my fists. Stopped biting my lower lip.
Elias never returned to the table, where the three of us attempted to color the night a different shade, instead he lay half on half off our comfy chair, with his back to his family, face in the cushions, just breathing the woodsmoke air.
"Elias, why don't you play with me?" Olive asks, the morning after.
He stares at the table.
With his iPad hidden until he earns it back, he agrees, albeit reluctantly, and not without cajoling, to make cards with us.
Mom, you are nice, love Elias, he writes.
Olive writes: Merry Christmas Elias. You are funny. Olive
Later I take them to the Sea Life Center, where the young woman at the front desk asks Elias, "Are you here to ride the elevator?"
And of course we do, but we also look at the Puffins and the silver salmon, the Sea Stars and octopus and seals.
Pilot the Stellar Sea Lion swims right up to the large window we watch him through, pauses before us, looks right at us, and then almost bluff charges, making us all flinch, scream, and laugh with our heads thrown back.
Mesmerized by this mammoth sea creature, who pulls us in with his underwater grace and startles us with his quick movements, again and again, we run back and forth between the windows, the whole downstairs of the Sea Life center to ourselves, just the three of us, laughing every time we get scared.